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Words fail

For past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of ideas about blog posts to write – whether it was on the dangers of leaders failing to have self-awareness, the challenges of navigating your career, or the friction between similarity bias and our desire for inclusive hiring and working practices.

But then someone does something stupid in the real world and I don’t write anything, because it’s either too close to what I was going to write about and I didn’t really want to write specifically about that incident (*cough* Google *cough*), or the situation was so messed up and terrifying, all I can think is, “What the holy fuck?!” (*cough* pretty much everything from the White House *cough*)

So here’s what I’m going to write about.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of your coworkers.

Make sure you’re there to listen if they need to share. Make sure you’re okay respectfully ending a conversation if you realize you no longer want to engage with a toxic worldview.

Acknowledge people are feeling feelings and give them room to do so – as long as it isn’t harmful to others.

Encourage people to seek help if they need it (EAPs are there for a reason). Remind employees they have PTO if they can use it.

Don’t be afraid to laugh and be silly. The problems of the world are still going to be there after you take 5 minutes to watch a video compilation of cats in cute costumes. If someone tells you you’re taking the eye off the prize when you do that, you say, “Damn straight I am. Now look at Pirate Cat.”

Know your rights. Know the rights of people you disagree with. Understand what the First Amendment actually means in the workplace. Understand your state’s laws about worker protections for non-work activity.

But most of all, keep going. Look for the good. Look to the light.

Words can wait.

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Crowdsourcing, best practice, and the reality of work

There’s a lot of chatter out there these days about the benefits of crowdsourcing and use of best practice.

On the one hand, this is a good thing. Technology has helped us shrink the world, allowing us to connect to each other more easily. Because of this, we can learn from each other through case studies, experiences, and measured benchmarks.

On the other hand…just because we can, does it really mean we should?

The answer to this question is best illustrated by a a post on LinkedIn that I’ve been following (and commented on). The post’s subject isn’t terribly important – someone shared that they’d had a unique request from a potential applicant and wanted to know if anyone had ever had the same thing happen to them. What is fascinating to me, though, is the variety of responses and the emotional investment some respondents displayed. Some thought the request was normal, others didn’t. And some were VERY judgemental about a potential candidate having the gall to make such a request. If you do read the comments in the LinkedIn post, pay attention to the language used – it’s incredibly eye-opening. And I can’t imagine it was very helpful for the person who posted the question in the first place.

This example is not unique. You’ve all probably heard similar examples of people looking for input to figure out the best thing to do. Industries regularly publish benchmark data on all sorts of KPIs. Experts write whitepapers. Speakers deliver keynotes about their success. But for every published benchmark is a person saying benchmarks make you average. For every whitepaper on “best practice,” there’s a pundit calling you behind the times for going after those. And for every keynote talking about their personal success, there’s me saying, “I’m glad that worked…FOR YOU.” The noise of opinion is loud and contradictory.

So what is a person to do? Honestly, it kind of depends on what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in your business.

Are you just starting out in a certain area? Benchmarks and best practices may help you set a baseline from which you measure your progress. It may also help provide a framework for you as you build out your process and dashboard. The trick is to make sure you know the limitations of benchmarks and understand what they’re actually telling you. If you don’t understand a number or what the best practice results in, ask questions or don’t use it. Simply hitting a number because it’s a “benchmark” may not get you anywhere.

Are you being challenged on the prevalence of a certain problem, or are looking for anecdotal evidence of an emerging trend that hasn’t hit research yet? Crowdsourcing within trusted groups can be a helpful approach. Just be aware that the quality of answers is only as good as the group from which you seek input. Throwing a question out on Twitter will get you a MUCH different response than asking a closed group of experts on Facebook. Yes, both methods run the risk of sarcastic responses, but honestly that’s just spice that keeps the flavor in your life.

My point is, you’re going to get potentially crappy data no matter what approach you take. The key is understanding what it is you’re trying to accomplish with this data – what works for YOU in YOUR business RIGHT NOW? If you can’t define those parameters, you probably shouldn’t even be asking the questions in the first place.

 

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Vulnerability and Strength: An evening with Michelle Obama

We live in a world where the loudest voice is usually the one that’s listened to.

This is the world of the “alpha” (usually male, but not always) – the person who wants you to KNOW they are important, that they have no weaknesses, that they need no sleep, and they are the smartest person in the room…nay, the universe.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

That’s why it is so significant when you encounter a public figure who approaches their role as leader in a totally different way. Recently, that public figure was Michelle Obama.

I’ve had the opportunity to see her speak in person twice this year. The first time was at WorkHuman – a conference dedicated to thinking about work in a different, more “whole person” way.  The second time was recently, when the former First Lady spoke at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s (WFCO) 30th anniversary celebration forum. Both sessions were impressive, moving and thought-provoking. But it was at the WFCO event that I was really struck by the humanity of Michelle Obama as a leader.

(Photo by Jason Bahr/Getty Images for The Women’s Foundation of Colorado)

The conversation at WFCO was incredibly personal – less about policy and big picture approach (although that was there, too), and more about how she grew up and how her experiences as a woman (and especially as a woman of color) shape her view of the world.

It wasn’t so much about what Michelle Obama said; it was more about the WAY she said it. She admitted when she got emotional (even asked for a Kleenex). She was honest when she said the hateful things people said about her hurt. You believed her when she talked about her strength, and you marvelled at how matter-of-factly she warned against assuming she was the role model above all other role models.

Her approach suggests that a leader can show vulnerability while displaying strength. In fact, that very vulnerability is proof of strength – an understated confidence in self-worth that allows for the leader to lay their emotions bare.

Some moments from the conversation that stood out to me:

  • On family and background: Michelle Obama spoke at length about her upbringing, focusing particularly on the extended family aspect. Her love and respect for the “village” that raised her was evident, as was the high bar her father set for any other man in her life. (She’s looking at you, Barack.) She was also INCREDIBLY honest about the reality of her family, “We had our share of everything in our family – we had teachers, and police officers,…and drunks.” Takeaway: The extended support network gave her several role models who were vital to her success as a person and as a public figure.
  • On childhood and role models: One of my favorite quotes from the evening came when Michelle Obama discussed the challenges of being a teenager. First, she admonished against making any life choices during the teenage years. No one has any idea of what they want or who they really are – it’s not until you’ve lived some life until you become your full self. But the quote I loved: “I used to tell my daughters, please don’t get your life advice from other 14-yr-olds.” Takeaway: It’s tough growing up, especially today. Kids need role models everywhere – not just public figures. YOU could be someone’s role model.
  • On bullying and trolls: Here is where the reality of a public life stood out. Michelle Obama has been called awful things. She has had to endure attacks on her husband, her children, and herself. And these are deeply personal attacks. When asked how it made her feel, she said, “It made me feel the way they intended it to make me feel. But the question should be about my feelings. It should be about why that person felt they could say that in the first place.” Takeaway: Damn straight. 100% agree.
  • On hurting and pain: This is tied to the bullying discussion, but it’s so much more specific to those in our society who feel they don’t have a voice. “If under-represented people don’t say they hurt, then it lets the people who say awful things off the hook.” Takeaway: Voice your discomfort. Speak out when someone does something inappropriate to you or to others. Don’t let jerks off the hook.
  • On acting locally: Some of the topics touched on in the evening were as all-encompassing as education, healthcare, and setting public policy. But Michelle Obama reminded everyone to start locally. Each person has the capacity to be a role model, to help someone in their own way. Takeaway: We can’t all set national policy, but we CAN all treat each other appropriately.
  • On failure and strength: Michelle Obama talked a lot about the strength of women – from everything to childbirth, to high heels, to emotional tests. “Women live every day with thousands of little cuts they get from the rest of the world, but they still get up and keep going.” These cuts have become so second nature to many, that they don’t even notice them any more. And keeping with the theme of speaking up, the former First Lady reminded all of us to talk about our failures to keep role models grounded in reality. “Failure is like a cut – some are deeper than others, some hurt more than others. But all cuts heal with time.” The cuts change – they may scar, we may still see them, but they’re a part of us. Takeaway: The absence of failure is not strength. The ability to share failure and learn from it is true strength.
  • On running for political office: Michelle Obama has stated quite clearly that she will not seek election, now or ever. She will, however, remain in public service for the rest of her life. It’s too much a part of who she is and what she wants to focus on in the future – girls’ education, health, and helping women find a community for themselves for support. Besides, she’s far too experienced to want to go through a public election again: “I won’t be running for public office. I know you love me. Until I run. And then you’ll be annoyed by me. I know how this works.” Takeaway: We get it. It’s not in the cards. But maybe she’ll reconsider?

As angry as I get at misogyny and systematized discrimination (and I get angry), I’m not a “sisterhood” kind of person. It doesn’t work for me. As a result, the first part of the evening didn’t resonate with me (but I’m dead inside. Seriously, WFCO does some truly amazing things – check them out). I’m an idea person, not a person person, so it’s rare when I’m in awe of a person.

I’m in awe of Michelle Obama. Regardless of your politics, her approach to people and to leadership is inspiring. In her mind, it’s not about what she can do. It’s about what she can help everyone do – which is the mark of a good leader.

Vulnerability and strength. It’s a powerful combination.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rambling musings from recent travel (it’s a long one…)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog lately. Part of that is due to work and travel. Part of it is due to not really sure if I have something meaningful to put out there in the universe. (Unlike super successful bloggers, I am not good at the whole “write on a schedule” thing. That’s probably why I haven’t been able to retire and live the life to which I’d like to become accustomed.)

I mentioned travel. I recently returned from a very fun, very exhausting, and very different kind of vacation (for me). I had a chance to do an East Coast Swing – fly out to Philly for a couple of days to piggyback on my husband’s work trip and see what the city is like, and then we took a train to NYC. I had never been to either city. I am not a person who typically does well in big cities. Too many people. Too little sky.

I had a blast.

I mean, not ALL the time. Good lord, it’s still travel – have you done that recently? Oof. However, the fact that this trip was to a new place that forced me to do new things meant a lot. It also got me thinking differently about stuff in general. Of course, none of these thoughts were sufficiently long enough for an entire blog post, so you get random thoughts from the road.

Musing #1: The walkability of cities out east was really, really nice. It changes the way you interact with your environment. You notice things about the area you wouldn’t see in a car. We found lots of fun little shops and other things to see as we were walking around. We stumbled upon Christ Church in Philadelphia after grabbing a sandwich for lunch. We ended up in the cemetery where Ben Franklin is buried because we thought it looked cool. And we found Trinity Church and Alexander Hamilton’s grave while meandering about downtown Manhattan. None of these was on our list of things to see.
Lesson learned: Get out and walk around. You’ll see things you never expected to. Oh, and Times Square is THE WORST. 

Musing #2: Speaking of things not being on our list to see…we didn’t have a list of things to see. Typically when I go on vacation, I learn about the area and all that there is to do and then when we get there, we see what happens. (Seriously, we hate scheduling things because then we feel like we HAVE to do something.) I didn’t really do that this time. We had show tickets for one Broadway show (more on that later) and that was it. The rest was up in the air. Every day, we picked a destination, and then wandered around until we got there and let the day take us where it would. It’s how we ended up at The Intrepid Museum (very cool). It’s also how we ended up getting tickets for a second show on a whim. Not having it all in my head up front was a little frustrating at times, but it also meant I wasn’t worried that we’d miss something I’d read about.
Lesson learned: Sometimes you just go with the flow and take what the world gives you.

Musing #3: One of the cool things about travel is getting to meet people you only know from online. We got to have dinner with the incomparable Vadim Liberman. We had such a good time. We made him eat too much food, and forced him to consume sorbet against his will. (He made me say that so you wouldn’t think he’s fat.) Seriously, though, we had fun and it was great to finally connect in person. It was like we’d known each other for years.
Lesson learned: Online relationships CAN be meaningful and solid. And it’s even better when you can reinforce in real life.

Musing #4: The subway in NYC was not as awful as I was worried it would be. Which is silly, because we rode The Tube in London with no problems. As you can see, I had NO frame of reference for NYC (except maybe Law & Order, which probably isn’t super accurate). We took the subway from Times Square to downtown, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, had pizza and ice cream, and then took the subway back. Good times!
Lesson learned: We often make things out to be much worse in our minds than they actually are.

Musing #5: One of the things I have always wanted to do was see a Broadway show with its original cast. Hamilton was one I wanted to do, and that didn’t happen for various reasons (cost being a big one). So when Dear Evan Hansen came out and I saw some clips of how amazing Ben Platt was in the lead role…that was the show I picked. So we went. And…wow. I’ve seen live musicals and plays before. I have never seen someone commit like that. Damn. The show itself is good and all…but the actors are what elevate it to astounding. I’m curious to see how it fares when the original cast moves on. We also got tickets to see Hamilton (finally!). Totally lucked into not having to pay a million dollars, so it can be done! Also fabulous. As a show, Hamilton is far more brilliant than Dear Evan Hansen – staging, writing, choreography, etc. But I think the performances of Dear Evan Hansen stuck with me a little bit more. Either way – both shows were stupendous to see. As I sat there, watching the fantastic talent onstage, I realized I was watching people do what they were put on this Earth to do. It’s transformative.
Lesson learned: Go watch people do what they were meant, and built, to do. And see a show on Broadway at least once. It does make a difference.

Musing #6: The 9/11 Memorial is heart-breaking and powerful. I was surprised by the impact it has, all these years later. The Memorial team places roses in the names of victims on their birthday. The sight of those flowers is beautiful and sad. Please, if you ever go – don’t take smiley family pictures like it’s Disney. It’s basically a burial site.
Lesson learned: None really. Just incredibly moving.

We took almost 1,000 pictures. We walked what must be about 100,000+ steps in NYC (roughly 20,000/day). And I’ve written about 1,000 words about it because we saw so much and it made me think. A wise person once said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” As I get more opportunities to travel to new places, I agree with that 100%. I am grateful to have these opportunities and the wherewithal to take advantage of them. I get that not everyone can. I’m just asking you to try. So if you’ve been putting off that trip, don’t. Go book it now. Even if it’s just a quick drive over to the next town. Explore the world as much as you are able to do, especially the nooks and crannies of your hometown.

 

 

You never know what you’ll find.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Why I cringe when people say “hire for fit”

Companies are constantly looking for differentiators. In the first tech bubble, it was all about stock options and perks like kegs in the breakroom. In the second tech bubble, it’s been all about….stock options and kegs in the breakroom. Huh. I thought we’d come further than that. Moving on…

What you hear about more and more now, though, is “culture.” Culture is the great differentiator. It will make or break your company! It will make you productive! It will cure cancer! (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Listen, I’m a big fan of being intentional about the culture you’re allowing to develop in your workplace. It DOES impact the way people work, their ability to be successful, and how your customers view you. Whether or not you personally like Southwest Airlines (and I love them, so there), you can’t argue with their success in a tough industry. And they attribute it to their “culture” – from how they operate, to how they hire, to how they make, spend, and save money.

It’s the “how they hire” piece that I think people screw up all the time. (And I’m not the only one who thinks that!)

Too many companies who are concerned about their culture focus on hiring as the way to “fix it.” They think that by hiring the “right people,” they’ll magically get the culture they’re looking for. They focus on pre-hire assessments like personality tests and quirky questions and conversations about “passion.” And the next time the employee survey results come back, employees still say they don’t like the culture and turnover proves it.

At this point…I’m over “hire for fit.” Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important that an employee aligns with core elements of the organization whether it’s the work they do, the people they work with, the values experienced, or what the company represents. But I think we’re going at it wrong. And here’s why:

ILLUSION #1 : Hiring for fit = a cure for all our ills: Every organization I’ve ever worked at that struggles with a “challenging culture” focuses on hiring as the fix. Why? Because it’s the easiest process to change. You add a couple of assessments, change some interview questions, and voila! All done.  

REALITY:  Hiring’s not your problem: Culture consists of EVERYTHING within your workplace, not just the people. It’s your systems, your processes, your location, your parking habits, the industry, your policies, your leadership practices, the behaviors of managers, communication….get the point. If you’ve got issues with your culture, it’s going to take more than just hiring people who SEEM to be part of the culture you want. You have to be willing to dissect the WAY you work. If you’re not wiling to do that, all those “new culture” people you hired are going to leave as soon as they can.

ILLUSION #2: Culture is about attitude, so we’ll ask about that: After all, we want to make sure people share our “values” so let’s make sure the questions are all about how they feel and what they like and dislike. That way we’ll know that they’re the right person to match our culture.

REALITY: Culture is about activity, not attitude: When you read about how Southwest (and other strong “culture” organizations – like Disney) hire people, you’ll see that they focus on BEHAVIORS, not feelings. That’s because behaviors are measurable and you can see how they impact work. Disney records how candidates interact with others, how they treat the receptionist, their inherent curiosity when sitting in a room…all behaviors. Southwest asks candidates how they handled a tough customer situation, looking for examples of the actions taken and the results of those actions. If you want a “culture fit” hire, find people who embody the culture through action, not words.

ILLUSION #3: Our managers are skilled enough to decide if someone is a good fit: We gave them a set of questions and told them to follow the law, they should be fine. Besides, these people have been here FOREVER and totally know what a good hire would look like.

REALITY: At best, they’re guessing. At worst, they’re using “not a fit” as an excuse for discrimination: If you don’t require interview training and calibration before a person is allowed to interview candidates, you have little to no assurance they know what they’re doing. Even then, you’ve got unconscious bias that no amount of training can overcome. By allowing “not a fit” to become the reason a qualified, promising candidate doesn’t get hired, you’re making it okay for managers to make snap judgments. If you can say “not a fit because of x,y,z examples of behaviors,” you’ve got a better chance. Also…DO YOU EVEN REALLY KNOW WHAT YOUR CULTURE IS? Probably not. You think you know. But unless you’ve done a valid assessment, you’re just describing what YOU think the culture is. 

ILLUSION #4: Same is good: Companies believe that if everything acts the same, thinks the same, and looks the same, then the culture will be fabulous and the company will be 100% successful.

REALITY: Diversity is good: You need diversity of backgrounds, thought, experience, age, race, gender…all of it. It breeds innovation. It pushes the company forward. It helps reduce that unconscious bias that gets us into trouble. It’s not the friction that’s the problem – it’s how you function with friction that’s hurting you. Include and celebrate differences and learn to leverage that friction in a way that’s beneficial to the organization.

In a perfect world, I would want companies to share openly enough of who they are and how they operate so that potential candidates can make the educated choice about whether or not they might be a “fit.” There are also tools out there that can help identify alignment with company values/behaviors in such a way that both allows the candidate to decide if they want to proceed AND helps the hiring manager identify questions that will get at the heart of whether full alignment is good or if the team needs that friction.

So please….stop acting like all  you really need to do is “hire for fit.” There are bigger issues at stake. Tackle those and then MAYBE you can start hiring for fit.

Maybe.

 

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Use Your Brain #SHRM17

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 20, 2017]

I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of different conferences, and I see a lot of keynote speakers who are considered experts in their fields. They are successful because enough people think enough of what they’re saying makes sense and support it. They’re also successful because they are engaging speakers who connect with their audience and make everything sound brilliant.

The thing is…you’re not required to agree 100% with what these speakers are saying. Some of them cite research. Some of them share what they’ve done that worked. Some of them just share what they think SHOULD work. Are all valid ways to share an idea.  All can either be right or wrong.

Whether it’s Laszlo Bock’s suggestion that hiring managers not have the final say of a hire, or Patrick Lencioni’s suggestion that if you REALLY want to know if a person is a good hire you should take them shopping, it’s up to you as to whether or not that suggestion makes a lick of sense.

I go into every session with the attitude that I am going to learn something, because nothing bothers me more than a conference attendee who claims they didn’t learn anything. I may not agree with the speaker, but I bet I learned something about WHY I didn’t agree with them. That speaker’s point of view triggered an internal reflection – “Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense. Why doesn’t it make sense?” By questioning another’s point of view, I’m forced to critically consider my point of view.

Notice the words I’m using – “reflection,” “critically consider.” I’m doing this on purpose because there’s a difference between thoughtful disagreement and a kneejerk reaction against something new.

So as you finish up your conference sessions, or plan future conference attendance, I ask that you use your brain. Listen to what the speakers are saying – not necessarily how they are saying. Then decide whether or not you agree with it. Only then will you be ready to apply what you were exposed to at #SHRM17.

 
 

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Take a chance on talent (from #SHRM17)

[This post first appeared on the SHRM Blog on June 19, 2017]

The Monday of any SHRM conference is usually jammed packed and high energy. It’s the first full day of sessions. People are excited to check out the sessions they mapped out for the day, and they aren’t yet exhausted from talking to the 18,000 attendees at #SHRM17.

One of the themes I noticed in the sessions I attended – whether it was Laszlo Bock’s general session or Jennifer McClure’s excellent session on disrupting HR – centered around taking a chance on talent. They challenged HR to stop putting up so many artificial barriers to hiring the best performers; you know, barriers like degree requirements or minimum years of experience. These barriers only serve to weed out people who may have excellent potential, ensuring you hire people who were successful in one system but not necessarily in yours.

This concept most likely rubs a lot of HR professionals the wrong way. After all, minimum qualifications are the bread and butter of job postings everywhere (particularly in the public sector and highly regulated industries). But research is beginning to support this stance. Recently, Ernst and Young announced they would no longer require degrees as entry criteria because their research showed a degree was NOT a predictor of success at their organization. Other organizations, like Xerox, found that experience didn’t matter either. It was better to build than buy, because work will outpace skills at a faster pace and you better be able to train your folks up if you want to stay competitive.

I like this trend. I hate artificial barriers in hiring, and have often said some of my best hires were people I hired on potential rather than track record. One of these people is sitting on a panel at this very conference.  Sam joined my team with limited experience in learning and development. He had been working for a bank and had made some job aids…and that’s about it. But he clearly had an eye from problem solving, a creative mind, and a work ethic like no other. I always asked candidates to prepare a presentation on leadership for my hiring process, and Sam’s was incredibly well-researched, coherent, interesting, and definitely helped the audience learned. So I hired him. And he was amazing.  Today, Sam is the Director of Training at Chipotle – a role he created from nothing after starting with them as a contractor.

If I had followed the job description and minimum requirements, I never would have hired Sam. I shudder to think that I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to hire Sam if anyone really looked closely at his background. And that would have been a damn shame because I would have missed out on a chance to watch a person find their path and become a success. (As you can tell, I’m ridiculously proud of Sam and try not to embarrass him, but I did it anyway, so there.)

So if you take anything back with you to your workplace, take the idea that it’s time to stop putting ridiculous requirements on your job descriptions. Challenge your hiring managers on their desire for degrees, certifications, and years of experience. Point-factoring isn’t how we do comp anymore – it shouldn’t dictate how you define a job. If you don’t push back, if you don’t consider potential and growth, you risk missing out on some incredible hires.

Go out there and find your Sam. And prepare to be amazed.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2017 in Conference Posts

 

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